GlaxoSmithKline Pours $95 Million into Cell Research Institute in Quest for New Drugs

Published: Jun 18, 2015

Glaxo Pours $95 Million into Cell Research Institute in Quest for New Drugs
June 17, 2015
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

LONDON – GlaxoSmithKline , embattled by a lack of new drug development and takeover bids, is plunking down $95 million over five years in a new nonprofit research center in Seattle called the Altius Institute for Biomedical Sciences, Forbes reported this morning.

Because of poor visibility into how medicines affect the inner workings of cells and tissues, many drugs fail in late stage development, which is extremely expensive, Glaxo said. Earning more about the function and control of a cell’s genes will greatly improve the probability of selecting and developing the right drug targets for the right diseases, Glaxo added. The Institute will delve into the human genome in order to better understand the role of genetics on disease and how a cell’s “operating system” functions in health and disease.

Altius will be led by John A. Stamatoyannopoulos, a professor of Genome Sciences and Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The institute is expected to be up and running later this year, Glaxo said.

“Innovative technologies are needed to gain a deeper understanding of how cells’ ‘operating systems’ work. Translating this understanding effectively into clinical settings and the discovery of new medicines will require wholly new approaches to combining technology, molecular biology and computation. GSK’s pioneering support will enable Altius to innovate at the forefront of gene regulation science,” Stamatoyannopoulos said in a statement.

The Altius group, Forbes reported, plans to use and improve “technologies around imaging, chemistry, and computation to extract meaningful information” from the genetic base. Altius will be independent from GlaxoSmithKline, with its own board of directors and management team. Data is being collected in multiple ways, including genome sequencing, researching family history and collecting bodily fluids such as urine and blood. That research will allow drugmakers to provide targeted therapies for individual care – a key portion of precision medicine.

Under terms of the 10-year deal, whatever Altius may uncover, GlaxoSmithKline gets the first chance to license the discoveries, as well as potentially spin companies out of it. Glaxo’s $95 million investment will cover the first five years of the decade-long partnership. Additional funding will be provided to apply the Institute’s technologies and discoveries to a wide range of drug discovery and development projects, including specific projects identified by GSK, Glaxo said in a statement announcing the deal.

Noting that many potentially promising drugs ultimately fail in clinical trials, Glaxo said it is investing in Altius to “drive down these failures and uncover new scientific opportunities, through pioneering collaborations and research programs as well as in-house investments, focused on improving the translation of disease biology to drug discovery.”

“We are aiming for transformative outcomes that could improve our ability to bring innovative and more effective new medicines to patients,” Lon Cardon, vice president of Alternative Discovery and Development at GSK, said in a statement.

Altius said it expects to collaborate extensively with Seattle-area research institutions to drive basic discoveries into clinical advances.

The Altius deal is not the first time Glaxo has fostered a partnership with outside agencies in hopes of developing new drugs. In 2014 Glaxo co-founded the Centre for Therapeutic Target Validation in Cambridge, England. The CTTV has a mission to better understand the biology behind diseases. In May, Glaxo developed a partnership with the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill to develop a cure for AIDS.

Staying competitive with new drug developments is important for any pharmaceutical company, but Glaxo has been hampered by lagging sales in Europe and the United States over the past year. Although the company reported a 5 percent growth in emerging markets, sales in Europe were flat and in the U.S. sales were down about 10 percent as the result of formulary and contract changes to asthma drug Advair. Glaxo is under pressure to develop new drugs that aren’t threatened by generics.

The Altius announcement comes on the heels of Glaxo’s investment in three new startup companies. Glaxo and investment firm Avalon Ventures provided $30 million to the three companies to advance their work in developing new treatments for heart disease, cancer and certain genetic disorders. The launch of the three companies comes on the heels of several successes for GlaxoSmithKline, including federal regulatory backing for two new asthma drugs mepolizumab and Breo Ellipta.

While Glaxo is working with startups to develop new drugs, rumors are swirling that the London-based pharmaceutical company is ripe for a takeover, with possible bidders being Roche , Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer Inc. . Glaxo has a rough takeover value estimated at $143 billion.

In addition to the lagging sales, GlaxoSmithKline has been plagued by scandal, particularly in Asia. The company is still recovering from a bribery and ethics scandal dating back two years.

GlaxoSmithKline was fined nearly $500 million by the Chinese government when it was revealed that some employees of the pharmaceutical company were bribing doctors with extravagant gifts to prescribe Glaxo medications to their patients. Additionally the company was also accused of violating China’s personal privacy laws through illegal videotaping.

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